As long as I can remember, Roald Dahl’s words have been present in our home. When I was tiny, it was the roly-poly bird saving the children from the enormous crocodile. As I grew older, I wished George would make some marvellous medicine for my grisly old grunion of a grandma. Even now Boy, Danny, and The Witches grace my shelves and in moments of confusion my family will explain that ‘what I says and what I means is two different things’.
Though there was a period in which I hardly touched Dahl’s books, his enduring influence is clear both in my outlook on life and through my writing. If anyone wishes to understand my humour and my delight with the world, it will help them to become acquainted with one of the greatest voices of my childhood. I am sad that I was never able to meet him.
Yesterday was Roald Dahl Day — what would have been his 102nd birthday. In honour of this (big friendly) giant of children’s (and let’s face it, adults’) literature, here are eleven great quotes from his pen.
From Little Red Riding Hood, a classic line we still quote and giggle over:
“That’s wrong!” cried Wolf. “Have you forgot
To tell me what BIG TEETH I’ve got?
Ah well, no matter what you say,
I’m going to eat you anyway.”
The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers. . .
From The Twits, a book we read to death at bedtime:
‘Mr Twit was a twit. He was born a twit. And, now at the age of sixty, he was a bigger twit than ever.’
From The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me, a little savanna etiquette:
‘If you wish to be friends with a Giraffe, never say anything bad about its neck. Its neck is its proudest possession.’
From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a sliver of truth I have long agreed with:
‘Do you know what breakfast cereal is made of? It’s made of all those little curly wooden shavings you find in pencil sharpeners!’
From Danny the Champion of the World (one of my personal favourites), a few words on grown-ups:
‘Grown-ups are complicated creatures, full of quirks and secrets.’
‘I was glad my father was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile, because it’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself.’
“I don’t blame him one bit. If I was unlucky enough to be married to Mrs Snoddy, I would drink something a bit stronger than gin.”
“What would you drink, Dad?”
“Poison,” he said. “She’s a frightful woman.”
On reading, a valuable pastime:
‘I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.’
‘So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.’ (from Matilda)
On writing, a few words from one of the great masters:
‘When you’re writing a book, it’s rather like going on a very long walk, across valleys and mountains and things, and you get the first view of what you see and you write it down. Then you walk a bit further, maybe up onto the top of a hill, and you see something else. Then you write that and you go on like that, day after day, getting different views of the same landscape really. The highest mountain on the walk is obviously the end of the book, because it’s got to be the best view of all, when everything comes together and you can look back and see that everything you’ve done all ties up. But it’s a very, very long, slow process.’
‘Don’t gobblefunk around with words’ (from the BFG).
And lastly, from James and the Giant Peach, a word on not losing your sense of awe with the world:
“My dear young fellow”’ the Old-Green-Grasshopper said gently, “there are a whole lot of things in this world of ours you haven’t started wondering about yet.”